It won't be a breeze

When the Green Bay Packers were blown out by the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 11, they recovered by beating the Detroit Lions, triggering a six-game winning streak.

The Green Bay Packers were blown out last week at Philadelphia. If the Packers are to bounce back, they'll have start today at Lambeau Field against the Detroit Lions.

These Lions are a different team than the one that got thumped back in October, however. Rookie running back Kevin Jones only played about a dozen snaps due to a sprained ankle. Rookie wide receiver Roy Williams missed the game with his own sprained ankle. Williams was the leading candidate for rookie-of-the-year honors at that point in the early season; Jones is making a late push now with four big games in a row.

Stopping the Lions' talented rookies are among this week's keys to the game.

1. Weather outside is frightful

Running the ball is always priority No. 1 for the Packers' offense. With Detroit quarterback Joey Harrington struggling and Jones surging, getting the running game going is vital for the Lions, as well.

But the big reason why running the ball will be so crucial today is because of the weather. While the rain has gone away and the pre-Christmas snows aren't on the way, the wicked winds of December will be in full force. Winds of 20-30 mph will be a constant and will reach 40 mph.

2. Keeping up with the Jones

When the Packers beat the Lions at Ford Field on Oct. 17, Jones was limited to just two rushes. Green Bay dominated that game 38-10, holding the Lions to 125 yards of total offense.

Detroit is a different team now, thanks to the emergence of Jones. The rookie out of Virginia Tech is playing up to his first-round billing in the last four games. He rushed for 81 yards against a strong Jacksonville defense, 100 yards in a near upset at Minnesota, 99 yards against Indianapolis on Thanksgiving and, finally, 195 yards in last week's 26-12 win against Arizona.

While the Lions are only 1-3 as Jones has averaged 119 yards in those last four games, they've been competitive with the exception of a 41-9 loss to the Colts.

"I would say the running back has made the biggest difference in that team," said Packers safety Darren Sharper. "It allows them to control the line of scrimmage and not have to put the ball in Harrington's hands as much."

3. Put the ball in Harrington's hands

Green Bay's pass defense has been horrible in the last two games. Still, the Packers would feel comfortable if Harrington was forced to throw the ball every down. In his first seven games, Harrington threw 12 touchdown passes to only four interceptions. His passer rating topped 85 in five of those games. In the last five games, however, Harrington has thrown three touchdowns to four interceptions, and his passer rating has not reached 85.

4. Men in the middle

The Lions are not a strong defensive team, ranking 21st in the league. The Lions, however, are superb in the middle with defensive tackles Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson. Wilkinson is a talented if enigmatic veteran while Rogers is a young, 350-pound Pro Bowler. Because of them, the Lions' run defense is among the best in the league.

"Rogers is a real talent," said Packers left guard Mike Wahle. "He's a 350-plus and moves really well. He gets off the ball, and he's stepped up his game this year. He's a real challenge.

In the first matchup, Rogers was dominant on the first couple of series but Packers Pro Bowl guard Marco Rivera was the better player the rest of the way. Green Bay was held to 50 first-half rushing yards but surpassed 100 yards in the second half. That second-half rushing dominance helped the Packers outscore the Lions 21-0 to win going away.

With the weather dictating a strong running game, how Rivera, Wahle and rookie center Scott Wells handle Wilkinson and Rogers may very well determine today's outcome. This certainly will be a huge challenge in Wells' starting debut.

5. Williams vs. Harris

Before hurting his ankle, Williams quickly was turning into a dominant force. In the third game of the season, Williams caught nine passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles.

Then Williams got hurt. Since returning to starting duty in November, Williams is averaging three catches for 49 yards, and he hasn't reached the end zone since Oct. 24.

Still, he's Detroit's biggest weapon in the passing game, and the Lions no doubt want to test the Packers' beleaguered secondary. He'll face standout Packers cornerback Al Harris, who has more than held his own week after week while facing the opponent's biggest receiving threat.

"(Williams) has great size and excellent hands," said Packers head coach Mike Sherman. "He made a one-handed catch I saw on film that was pretty impressive. He's a little like (Philadelphia's) Terrell Owens in that he can take a short hitch, break tackles and run for touchdowns."


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